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Gut Bacteria Is Associated With Chronic Pain For The First Time

Image by Sergey Filimonov / Stocksy
June 21, 2019

We've heard about everything from the gut microbiome's role in inflammation to its impact on the development of certain diseases, and most recently, a potential new link to chronic pain.

A new study published in the journal Pain found that patients with fibromyalgia, a condition often characterized by chronic pain, had similar gut microbiome compositions—an abundance or absence of 19 species of bacteria—compared to those who did not have the disease.

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Fibromyalgia is a disease that currently does not have a cure and includes symptoms such as chronic pain1, fatigue, and cognitive impairment. The researchers found that these symptoms, in particular, were most closely connected to patterned changes they saw in the microbiome of fibromyalgia patients.

In the sample size, which included patients with and without fibromyalgia, they found a correlation between the level of intensity of the symptoms of the disease and the number of bacteria present or absent in the gut. The study noted this connection has not been previously reported.

More research is needed to see whether these changes in gut bacteria are merely characteristic of the disease or they could be contributing to the development of it.

At the moment, it is difficult to diagnose fibromyalgia2 as the symptoms are typical of many other conditions. The possibility that gut bacteria is a marker of the disease may mean earlier diagnosis and better treatment outcomes.

"As pain physicians, we are frustrated by our inability to help, and this frustration is a good fuel for research. This is the first evidence, at least in humans, that the microbiome could have an effect on diffuse pain, and we really need new ways to look at chronic pain," said Yoram Shir, senior author on the paper and director of the Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit at the McGill University Health Centre, in a statement.

Fibromyalgia is just one of many diseases that cause chronic pain. The CDC estimates that around 20% of adults3 in the U.S. live with chronic pain and notes it can contribute to a variety of other physical and mental health issues. It can be challenging for practitioners to diagnose chronic pain as it is difficult to measure the amount of pain the patient is feeling.

This makes it essential for more understanding of ways to prevent, diagnose, and cure chronic pain. We're looking forward to further research on the connection between the gut microbiome and chronic pain and hope this is an indication of more good research to come.

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